Two young chefs’ restaurant week menu in Cherry Creek North
I have wanted to eat at Aria ever since it opened, because I admire the imaginative contemporary cuisine and beautiful plating that Michael Long, the executive chef at opening, is known for. I waited too long for Long, if you’ll excuse the word game.
Despite the creativity and energy coming from the kitchen, the restaurant, which has had problems gaining traction (Josephine Street is hardly Cherry Creek North’s liveliest), underwent changes last fall. The cheffing duties now fall to Travis Masar and Jenica Flippo, both Johnson & Wales alums and well- traveled oenophiles (German wines in particular). If this week’s Denver Restaurant Week offerings are any indication, they are following the path that Long established for Aria in terms of creative combinations and beautiful plating.
The restaurant’s foyer features a cascading fountain in rock pool, creating a Zen quality. Past the hostess stand is an attractive semi-private dining room, a lounge with a bar and a few tables, and a big dining room with spacious granite-top tables. Diners feel as if they have a lot of elbow room. The service is considerate without being intrusive or overbearing — as it should be.
DRW guests are presented with a choice of four appetizers (three on the DRW menu and foie gras with a $15 upcharge), four entrées (three on the menu plus spice petite ribeye for $12 additional) and two desserts. A server placed two slices of bread — one an herb focaccua, one a poppyseed bread — on each plate. Two pats of soft sweet butter — one plain, one sprinkled with a few grains of pink Hawaiian sea salt — occupied a small dish.
As we did the other evening at Black Pearl, my friend Laura and I each picked a different dish for each course. All six dishes we had between us were beautiful, and for the most part, palate-pleasers as well. I learned something: that barramundi is a member of the seabass family. I had just two small quibbles: the compressed plantain rectangle that underlay my fish was cold, tough and tasteless, and the green cardomom shortcake seemed to be lacking in sugar, either intentionally or accidentally, and didn’t have much spicy flavor either. Here’s what we ordered: